Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fundamentalist Seminary Attacks Centrality of the Church part two

Jeff Straub has come back and written a follow up to his Restoring the Centrality of the Local Church? about which I wrote a very short post to identify it to my readers. His follow up is entitled, Overstating My Case? A Second Reflection on 1 Tim. 3:15. I appreciate his reflection on his first essay, but I'm afraid he may just be digging his hole a little deeper. I do not gloat in any way over all this, but this whole incident could be very instructive to many, and I think corrections need to be made.

Straub, I believe, was primarily concerned over what Dave Doran of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary had written at his blog about Straub's post. Doran had written something similar to what I had. Does Straub have a point of view and then look in the Bible to accommodate it? I'm not sure, but he was off on this one and then stayed off. This will not be answering his entire post, but will refute the particular exegetical point from which he buttresses the whole.

In his first offering, he said that the church of 1 Timothy 3:15 was "the universal church." Doran and myself both said that the church of 1 Timothy is local, and especially the one in 1 Timothy 3. Of course, I believe that the church is always an assembly, since that's what a church is, an assembly. There is no such thing as an unassembled assembly. Universal and church are a contradiction in terms. But for the sake of this argument, we're just looking at 1 Timothy 3:15. Straub would like his point to remain, so even though he does some backtracking in his second essay, he still misses it when he tries to further his exegesis. Here's what he wrote:

Recently I suggested that a local church is not the pillar and ground of the truth because of the tendency that local churches have to stray into error. Dave Doran has rightly challenged my use of 1 Tim. 3:15, and I confess that I should have phrased things differently. In the text in question, Paul is giving instructions to Timothy for local assemblies. Indeed, churches rightly ordered are pillars and grounds of the Truth. Note that in the text of 1 Timothy, the phrase is anarthrous so that we are talking of a pillar and ground and not the pillar and ground.

"Phrased things differently"? OK. We'll give him that. But then we get the "a" pillar and ground and not "the" pillar and ground. Dr. Straub should know that there is a reason why the KJV, NASV, NKJV, NIV, etc. all translated this "the pillar and ground of the truth," even though it is anarthrous. Anarthrous does not mean indefinite. I don't think we can get away with "phrase things differently" on this one, however.

On p. 239 of his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace writes:

In genitive phrases both the head noun and the genitive noun normally have or lack the article. The construction is known as the Apollonius' canon, named after Apollonius Dyscolus, the second-century Greek grammarian. Apollonius observed that both the head noun and the genitive noun mimicked each other with regard to articularity. Rarely did they go their own separate ways.

Later Wallace relates on p. 245: "Though by definition an articular noun is definite, an anarthrous noun may also be definite under certain conditions." Then he lists some of these conditions. The eighth of these is a "genitive construction" (p. 250). He says that in the genitive construction, "[i]t makes little semantic difference whether the construction is articular or anarthrous."

In other words, according to the Apollonius' canon, if "the truth" is definite, which it is, then "pillar and ground" must also be definite. The translators understood that no article was necessary to make "pillar and ground" definite. It was definite. So they translated it "the pillar and ground," making it definite by adding the English article.

A good example of this canon in play elsewhere is in Colossians 3:5:

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

Notice "the word of the truth." This is very similar to 1 Timothy 3:15 because "word" is anarthrous in the Greek, no Greek article. And yet "word" is still definite, "the word," because "the truth" is definite.

Our understanding based upon Greek grammar is that 1 Timothy 3:15 should be understood as "the pillar and ground of the truth," not "a pillar and ground of the truth," because of the Apollonius' canon. Jeff Straub erroneously sees something with the lack of article before "pillar" that really isn't there at all. So the point stands that the assembly, the local church alone, is the pillar and ground of the truth, and not anything else. This is an instance where someone cherry picks something from the Greek to find a theological point that isn't there at all.


Don said...


I looked up the anarthrous noun in Dana and Mantey's grammar. They also caution that this construction should not be trifled with and that English grammar laws should not be forced on the Greek. There is a very important difference here. Thanks for the explanation.

What is more, consider the logical conclusion of Straub's piece. He is saying basically that bigger is better. Well, isn't biggest best then? Maybe we should have one mission board for all Baptist churches, and one seminary. Then we could have one president over all the Baptist churches and work in unity! Wouldn't that be great! :) Hey, would Jeff Straub be our leader, since he 'invented' this system?

Thomas Ross said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

You are right on about 1 Timothy 3:15 being definite. In fact, if you take a look at situations where Theou is a genitive in association with an anarthrous head noun, you have lots and lots and lots of definite, nonarticular head nouns. However, this is exegesis, something that, unfortunately, does not seem to be found much in Dr. Straub's articles.

When I asked Dr. Straub if he could give me any refutation of B. H. Carroll's proof that the church is local-only, or any refutation of the historic Baptist view of Spirit baptism, or any refutation of the evidence that the body of Christ metaphor is local-only as demonstrated in my paper on Spirit baptism, no exegesis, no refutation followed--instead, the request for exegesis simply got deleted.

Instead, of exegesis, his new article has speculation that the church in Acts 20 was cell groups, the church at Jerusalem didn't meet (although they did in Solomon's porch, Acts 5:12, simply because it WAS big enough), and statements like "we have overemphasized the local church. . . . It seems to me that many of our churches think wrongly (based on 1 Timothy 3:15) that they and they alone are the pillar and ground of the truth."

The universal church position has no support at all from the use of the word ekklesia before the times of Christ, no examples of a non-local or generic use of ekklesia in the NT, and even post-NT works such as 1 Clement use the body of Christ metaphor for the local assembly. Nobody has refuted Carroll because the local-only view cannot be refuted. I looked everywhere to find an argument against the historic Baptist view of Spirit baptism, but couldn't find anyone even arguing against it. The truth simply gets ignored or deleted. It is unfortunate that people can get doctorates and go around teaching others the Bible, but they cannot present anything like a solid argument for the foundational assumptions for their ecclesiology.

Actually, such a situation is not just unfortunate, it is ridiculous.

In terms of the church as the pillar and ground of the truth--note that parachurch institutions typically take the universal ecclesiology position, while the very strong majority of church-run schools (such as those run by Anchor Baptist, Salt Lake City, UT; Fairhaven Baptist, Chesterton, IN; Lehigh Valley Baptist, Emmaus, PA; Fargo Baptist, ND; etc.) take the local-only position. In the very rare situations where church-run schools take the universal church position--such as Central Seminary/Fourth Baptist--the professors all get their degrees and training from parachurch institutions, like Straub did.

So maybe they reject the truth about the pillar and ground of the truth because they have thought that they could get something better than the teaching of one of the Lord's assemblies--they have turned from the body, temple, and bride of Christ to embrace something else to get "real" training for the work of God.

Then again, there is, actually, in the NT, a picture that is a "church" sort of metaphor that is universal, instead of local-only, and it is indeed set in contrast in the NT to the bride of Christ, the particular assembly. That something is the Whore of Babylon, based in Rome, and described in Revelation 17. So I suppose there is something that is "church" like in the NT that is not local and visible. It might not be wise to turn from the bride to the whore for teaching on the Bible, though. The whore doesn't do too well in the book of Revelation.

Thomas Ross said...

By the way, to give credit where it is due, at least Dr. Straub admitted his first post was wrong. I look forward to praising the Lord with him forever in the future heavenly assembly (cf. Hebrews 12:23), when, local and visible in the presence of the Lord, the saints will universally praise God together.

Thomas Ross said...

By the way, for clarity, I meant above that the NT employed "church/ekklesia" in a local way (i. e., church at Antioch) and a generic way ("Christ is the head of the church"), but the word is not used in a universal way. I think a sentence of mine above could look like I denied a generic use, but the NT does clearly use "church" as a generic noun. However, a verse like "the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church" only prove a universal, invisible church of all believers if there is also a universal, invisible husband made up of all the husbands in the world, and a universal, invisible wife made up of all the wives in the world.

d4v34x said...

I think his point was not that the translation should be "a" instead of "the", but that, since there are more than one local body, each actual body is not "the", but rather "a", whereas the local church as a concept is "the".

Kent Brandenburg said...


Dr. Straub wrote:

"Note that in the text of 1 Timothy, the phrase is anarthrous so that we are talking of a pillar and ground and not the pillar and ground."

Do you understand that he is saying that a church is "a" pillar and ground because "pillar and ground" has no article in the Greek? I refuted that point. He never said what you said in your comment. It's nice of you, however, to try to make him look better. However, trying to make room in scripture for something that isn't there is not good. We can be nice, but it needs to be put down. He shouldn't be supported in what is wrong. I would say the same for me, hoping that someone would also take on my exegesis rather than just name-calling, for instance.

Christian said...

At risk of being branded incorrectly, let me take the "devil's advocate" position:

So Brother Brandenburg, if it is definite, which "definite" church is "the" pillar and ground of the truth?

Christian Markle

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Christian. Thanks for the question.

There is only one church. Local. And for those who think there is a universal, the context here is local. So an assembly, which is local only, is THE pillar and ground of the THE truth.

Because it is definite does not mean it is referring to a particular local church, although in the context, Timothy would have understood it to be the church at Ephesus. The singular noun can be understood as generic. I believe since Scripture is plain, we can know what a church is. It would be one of those Scriptural churches that is the pillar and ground of the truth.

If that doesn't answer it, let me know.

Gary said...

What is the scriptural church which is the pillar and ground of the truth? The local Baptist church, local Methodist church, local etc. Is it those churches that stand firm on the core doctrines i.e. Jesus is the only way, he died and rose again on the third day, etc. Or do they have to hold to the minors too i.e. Women in dresses, no wine, KJV only, etc.

Christian said...

Thank you Brother Brandenburg,

I was pressing for the "generic" concept. I saw one of the previous comments mentioned this and I wanted to see how you viewed this in light of your pressing home the "definite" nature of the grammar.

I would agree that we must see the word ekklesia in both a specific and generic/institutional way. The best illustration of the generic/institutional usage is the phrase "the family." In the ministry called "Focus on the Family" (insert standard disclaimer -- used for illustrative purposes only), no one is concerned about which precise family to focus on, nor is any one teaching some universal family that we should focus on.

I have more thoughts, but other "real" ministry is calling me right now...

For His glory,
Christian Markle